Tag Archives: Cybersecurity

Protecting the Maritime Shipping Industry from Cybercrime

By Nicholas A. Glavin


The American maritime shipping industry is one of the most vulnerable critical infrastructures (CI) to ransomware and other forms of cybercrime. Maritime shipping accounts for 90-94 percent of world trade; any disruption to this sector will adversely affect the American economy and international trade more broadly. The July 2017 NotPetya ransomware attack that affected Maersk, a Dutch maritime shipping company, prompts timely action to protect American maritime infrastructure as the industry is ill-prepared to prevent and respond to attacks of this sophistication and scale. The recommended course of action encourages the U.S. Government to subsidize cybersecurity and training horizontally and vertically across the maritime shipping industry through the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).

Cyber Assaulting Maritime Commerce

Any disruptions to global shipping companies, sea lanes of communication, or maritime chokepoints will have potentially disastrous implications for the economies and the supply chains of the U.S. and the global community. The economic impacts of cyber disruptions and damage to ships, ports, refineries, terminals, and support systems is estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Moreover, the second- and third-order effects of a cyber attack are not limited to the maritime sector of CI; if more than one port is disrupted at the same time, a greater impact is “likely to occur” for the Critical Manufacturing, Commercial Facilities, Food and Agriculture, Energy, Chemical, and Transportation Systems of the nation’s CI.

Ransomware attacks eclipsed most other cybercrime threats in 2017.  The July 2017 NotPeyta ransomware attack highlighted the vulnerabilities of the maritime shipping industry to cyber disruptions. One of the most high-profile victims of this ransomware attack included the Dutch maritime shipping company Maersk. The company estimates upwards of $300 million in losses from the attack, the majority of which relates to lost revenue. Maersk continued operating for ten days without information technology (IT) until its networks were back online, despite ships with 10,000 to 20,000 containers entering a port every fifteen minutes. NotPetya shut down several ports worldwide, reduced Maersk’s volume by 20 percent, and forced the company to handle the remaining 80 percent of its operations manually. Maersk was forced to replace 45,000 PCs, 4,000 servers and install 2,500 applications.

The maritime shipping industry is highly vulnerable to cybercrime – in particular, ransomware – because of its lack of encryption, increased use of computer services, a lack of standardized training in and awareness of cybersecurity among crew, the sheer cost of defending the maritime IT enterprise, and industry-wide complacence towards cybersecurity. Several navigation systems such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) and the Automatic Identification System (AIS) are neither encrypted nor authenticated, thus being a soft target for cyber criminals. Jamming or spoofing of these systems can ground ships or make two collide, which can close a port or shipping channel for days or weeks depending on the severity of the incident. Disruptions to Industrial Control Systems (ICS) can lead to injury or death, release harmful pollutants, and lead to extensive economic damage across the maritime shipping industry.

Course of Action A: Federal Subsidies for Mandated Cybersecurity Awareness and Training

A Federal Government-enabled focus on prevention and response would proliferate horizontally and vertically across the maritime shipping community. This approach subsidizes the buy-in for industry to approach cybersecurity as a cost-effective asset. Simultaneously, this educates lower echelons of the workforce on digital hygiene to understand the transmission of ransomware and other forms of cybercrime. A positive consequence is the mitigation of industry lacking robust cybersecurity capabilities due to complacence and overhead costs. This is highly probable due to NotPetya’s wake-up call to industry and the existing public-private cybersecurity partnerships.

As the lead agency responsible for maritime cybersecurity in the U.S., the USCG issued a cybersecurity strategy in 2015 to identify best practices and voluntary measures. However, others may argue it is not the place of the U.S. government to subsidize cybersecurity best practices, facilitate compliance, and serve as the arbiter of how industry should train and defend against ransomware and other forms of cybercrime, thus opting instead for only industry-led approaches.

Course of Action B: Leverage Manual Operations and Dated Communications Technologies

This no- and low-tech approach encourages the use of manual navigations operations and older long-range navigation (LORAN) systems to circumvent disruptions to navigational and operational systems. A positive consequence of this approach is the standardization of backup operations for seamless continuity of operations on land, while also mitigating the overreliance on technology at sea. This is a probable course of action given the existing LORAN infrastructure and Maersk operating at 80 percent capacity during the NotPetya attack. A negative consequence is a proliferation in ransomware attacks deliberately targeting this industry since the approach would be passive in nature. This is also probable in occurring given the interconnectedness of the maritime sector to other CIs. However, others may argue that manual training and a functional secondary means of communication mitigates adverse costs from future ransomware attacks.


Course of Action A provides the highest return on investment to address the ransomware threat to the American maritime shipping industry. This prevention-focused and proactive approach will induce a top-down, lateral, and public-private approach to address maritime cybersecurity. While Course of Action B identifies the existence and use of alternative approaches to circumvent – or, at worst, mitigate the consequences of – a ransomware attack, it fails to place a premium on industry-wide digital hygiene  which is arguably the most cost-effective, scalable, and fastest approach to ransomware prevention.

Nicholas A. Glavin is a candidate for a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy (MALD) from The Fletcher School at Tufts University. He previously worked as a researcher at the U.S. Naval War College’s Center on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups (CIWAG). The views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent those of the U.S. Government. Follow him on Twitter @nickglavin.

Featured Image: Albert Mærsk in the 70s (Wikimedia Commons)

Event Invite: 22 FEB DC Happy Hour Discussion on Maritime Cyber Security

Join CIMSEC’s DC chapter for an evening discussion on the challenges and opportunities posed by the increasing importance of cyberspace and computer integration to activities in the maritime domain. Speakers include:

Tyson Meadors, Director for Cybersecurity Policy, National Security Council

Elsa Kania, Adjunct Fellow at the Technology and National Security Program at CNAS and co-founder of the China Cyber and Intelligence Studies Institute. She will discuss China’s plans to use quantum technologies in a maritime context.

Andrew Pasternak, Risk and Vulnerability Analyst 

Time: Thursday, 22 February, 5:30-7:30pm

Place: OZ Restaurant and Bar, 2950 Clarendon Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201 (via Clarendon Metro Station).

RSVPs not necessary but appreciated: director@cimsec.org

Cyberphysical Forensics: Lessons from the USS John S. McCain Collision

By Zachary Staples and Maura Sullivan

The 2017 back-to-back collisions of two Navy destroyers led to much speculation about the role of cyberphysical interference in the disasters. As the senior officer representing the U.S. Navy engineering community during the USS McCain cyber assessment, it is clear that we do not yet have the basic tools to definitively answer the question, “were we hacked or did we break it?”

Cyberphysical systems are the backbone of the global infrastructure we rely on for transportation, power, and clean water, and are growing at an exponential rate. The deep integration of physical and software components is not without risks and most industries are technically and organizationally unprepared to conduct forensic examinations. The ability to trust cyberphysical systems is dependent on our ability to definitively identify and remedy cyber interference, which is dependent on our understanding of how data flows impact the physical world.

There are broad lessons from the USS McCain cyber assessment that highlight the type of forensics needed to build and sustain cyberphysical infrastructure around the globe. In order to prevent and respond to future cyberphysical events, whether malicious or accidental, the Navy and organizations dependent on cyberphysical systems must establish post-event procedures for cyber forensic investigations, develop trusted images, and integrate threat intelligence with engineering teams.

Post-event Procedures

Post-incident shipboard forensic examination is a unique activity that is separate and distinct from cybersecurity evaluations or responses to network intrusion or malware. Typically, when cybersecurity operations centers observe malicious communications or indications of compromise within their operating network, they have a clear map of the network and key pieces of information, such as an initiating IP address or malware signatures, from which to begin the forensic mission. They start by identifying and classifying malware on the offending endpoint and can take immediate actions to observe the adversary in their system and identify what is being targeted, while simultaneously acting to clean and quarantine the network.

In stark contrast, post-incident cyberphysical assessment requires an undirected baseline on a variety of media, including hard drives from voyage management systems, machinery control stations, and IT network endpoints. Greatly complicating post-incident response is the fact that many segments of the network will likely be shut off by design or physically destroyed by the casualty itself. The task of cyber forensic teams is essentially the equivalent of trying to determine why a building collapsed without blueprints, physical access to the structure, or any data on what happened immediately prior to the collapse.

The technical understanding and research required to define standard operating procedures for shipboard cyber forensic investigations do not currently exist. While the task of developing a comprehensive approach to shipboard cyber forensics is daunting, the military has experience developing specialty training paradigms, such as submarine navigation and tactical aviation. Hunting a cyber adversary in industrial control systems is a complex task requiring unique operational and tactical expertise. An achievable near-term milestone would be to create procedures for an attack surface assessment for a routine pre-planned mission, which could provide a test-bed for developing more comprehensive procedures, as well as a better understanding of capabilities and gaps.

Trusted Images

All ships operate three main networks: the voyage network that supports the safe navigation of the vessel, the engineering network that controls propulsion along with material handling and auxiliary systems, and the administrative network that supports business operations and crew welfare needs. U.S. Navy vessels also have a combat systems network. The interconnectedness of operational and information technology networks means that traditional information technology tools and perimeter-based security solutions are inadequate for cyberphysical systems. For example, the addition of even simple PKI security can overwhelm the processing power of installed cyberphysical processors and cause a system crash instead of preventing unauthorized access. Additionally, in order for systems like GPS to function, the system must allow access to all properly formatted traffic, rendering perimeter defense insufficient. Security for complex cyberphysical systems requires capturing data flows and developing contextually aware algorithms to understand the dynamics during shipboard operations.

To generate network situational awareness sophisticated enough to do cyber forensics, the team will need to search for electronic anomalies across a wide range of interconnected systems. A key component of anomaly detection is the availability of normal baseline operating data, or trusted images, that can be used for comparison. These critical datasets of trusted images do not currently exist. Trusted images must be generated to include a catalog of datasets of network traffic, disk images, embedded firmware, and in-memory processes.

1. Network Traffic: A common attack vector is to find a computer that has communications access over an unauthenticated network, which issues commands to another system connected to the network (i.e. malware in a water purification system issuing rudder commands). Cyberphysical forensics require network traffic analysis tools to accurately identify known hosts on the network and highlight anomalous traffic. If the trusted images repository contained traffic signatures for every authorized talker on the network, it would allow forensic teams to efficiently identify unauthorized hosts issuing malicious commands.

2. Disk Images: Every console on the ship has a disk that contains its operating system and key programs. These disks must be compared against trusted images to determine if the software loaded onto the hard drives contains malicious code that was not deployed with the original systems.

3. Embedded Firmware: Many local control units contain permanent software programmed into read-only memory that acts as the device’s complete software system, performing the full complement of control functions. These devices are typically part of larger mechanical systems and manufactured for specific real-time computing requirements with limited security controls. Firmware hacks give attackers control of systems that persist through updates. Forensic teams will need data about the firmware in the trusted image repository for comparison.

4. In-memory Processes: Finally, advanced malware can load itself into the memory of a computer and erase the artifacts of its existence from a drive. Identifying and isolating malware of this nature will require in-memory tools, training, and trusted images.

In addition to the known trusted images, future forensic analysis would benefit from representative datasets for malicious behavior. Similar to acoustic intelligence databases that allow the classification of adversary submarines, a database of malicious cyber patterns would allow categorization of anomalies that do not match the trusted images. This is a substantial task that will require constant updating as configurations change. However, there are near-term milestones, such as the development of shipboard network monitoring tools and the generation of reference datasets that would substantively improve shipboard cybersecurity.

Organizational Integration

As future shipboard assessment teams work to confirm or refute the presence of cyber interference, they will need the assistance of a cyber intel support team to validate assumptions about their findings aboard the vessel. The basic flow established in the USS McCain investigation was to look at the physical systems involved in causing the collision (i.e. propulsion, steering) and then begin looking for cyberattack vectors to those systems.

Ruling out cyber interference requires evidence of absence, which can be uniquely challenging. In order to refute a particular attack vector, coordination with a cyber intel support detachment is essential to understanding the range of possible cyberattack scenarios for a particular physical effect. For example, advanced cyber effects could be delivered over a radiofrequency pathway. Therefore, cyber investigators will need to understand the electromagnetic environment the ship is operating within, as recorded in national systems, and give access to analysts capable of identifying anomalies in the signal pathway.

Shipboard assessment and cyber intel support teams each have specific sets of expertise necessary to understand the full suite of cyberattack vectors and their potential impacts on shipboard systems. Cyberattack tactics are constantly changing and the highest levels of technical expertise and security clearance are required to keep abreast of the potential methods to penetrate networks and attack industrial control systems. Cyber intel teams will never have the engineering expertise to understand the full range of potential physical impacts on shipboard systems. As was demonstrated with Stuxnet and the attack on the Ukrainian power grid, the most successful cyberphysical attacks exploit the organizational gap between engineering and cyber teams.

Organizational constructs for cyberphysical systems will never be straightforward because cyber risk cuts horizontally across engineering systems and traditional intelligence activities. Organizational integration between the cyber and engineering communities must be practiced and continually refined in order to prevent and respond to cyberphysical interference. A near-term milestone would be to execute joint training exercises between the cyber intel and engineering communities in order to promote cross-disciplinary understanding and begin to build out the template for future organizational integration.


Network connectivity in industrial control systems has revolutionized the way humans interact with physical systems and ushered in a new era of capabilities from energy generation to manufacturing to warfighting. These advancements are not without risks, and to avoid cyberphysical catastrophe, the development of tools to ensure resilience, security, and safety must keep pace. Shipboard forensics provide a prime example of the current gaps in our ability to understand, monitor, and protect cyberphysical systems. The lessons learned from the forensic examination of the USS McCain can provide the foundation for the procedures, data, and organizational constructs required to create modern tools to monitor and protect cyberphysical systems.

Zac Staples had a 22-year career in the United States Navy as a surface warfare officer specializing in electronic warfare. His final tour was as the Director of the Center for Cyber Warfare at the Naval Postgraduate School, where he led inter-disciplinary research and development teams exploring cyber capability development. Zac holds a B.S. in engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy, a Masters in National Security Affairs from the Naval Postgraduate School, and is a distinguished graduate of the Naval War College.

Maura Sullivan specializes in systemic risks and data-driven emerging technologies. Maura was the Chief of Strategy and Innovation at the U.S. Department of the Navy, where she developed and implemented the strategic roadmap for emerging cyberphysical technologies. Previously, Maura led a start-up within the global catastrophe risk company, RMS, developing software and consulting solutions for managing systemic risks for financial and insurance markets. She was a White House Fellow, has a Ph.D. in epidemiology from Emory University and a B.S and M.S. in earth systems from Stanford University.

Zachary Staples (USN, Retired) and Maura Sullivan, PhD are the co-founders of Fathom5, a maritime cybersecurity company.

Featured Image: Operations Specialist 3rd Class Daniel Godwin, from Milton, Fla., stands watch in the Combat Information Center aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65). (U.S. Navy photo)

Port Automation and Cyber Risk in the Shipping Industry

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By Philipp Martin Dingeldey 


To stay ahead of competing ports and technological developments, automation has been heralded as inevitable. Major transshipment hubs and aspiring ports bet their future on automation, which raises the impact  cyber risks could have in the long-run.

Singapore’s Port Modernization

One example of port modernization is Singapore’s Tuas Port Project. To stay ahead of competing ports in Southeast Asia, PSA International and the city state have bet their future on the fully automated port on the western side of the island. The project is set to almost double the port’s current throughput capacity of twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) and consolidate all its container operations by 2040.

Singapore’s port is ranked second, behind Shanghai’s mega port, by total TEUs handled. Nevertheless, Singapore’s port is the world’s busiest transshipment hub, and therefore immensely important to global supply chains. The port’s volume growth of 6.4 percent for the first half of 2017 indicates that its investments in modernized berths and joint ventures with liners paid off.

While this is great news for the short term, container vessels on Asia-Europe trade routes will inevitably increase in size, requiring higher handling efficiency to achieve fast turn-around times. By the end of 2018, ultra large container vessels (ULCVs) are expected to gain a share of 61 percent of total capacity, pushing established hubs like Singapore to automate its terminals to stay relevant.

At the same time, next generation container vessels will not only be bigger, but also increasingly automated and even autonomous. As ports and the shipping industry are integral parts of global and regional supply chains, their automation and technological modernization raises the impact and potential of cyber risk.

How Good is Automation?

For Singapore’s port, automation is seen to not only strengthen its position as a transshipment hub well into the future, but also helps it keep up with technological developments and industry trends.

The shipping industry has generally been slow in adapting new technologies, due to its conservative nature and the large number of players involved. Currently, only a fraction of global container volume is handled by fully automated container terminals. In 2016, it was estimated that only 4-5 percent of container volume will be handled by fully automated terminals once ongoing projects were completed. Nonetheless, industry pressure and competition have heightened the need for ports to invest and automate, indicating that the number of automated terminals will increase.

Automated terminals allow ports to handle containers more efficiently by using operating systems to plan storage in accordance with collection and transshipment times. This reduces unnecessary box moves, shortens cycle times, and enables consistent and predictable throughput numbers.

Fully-automated terminals have the advantage of low operating costs and reliable operations, but require higher upfront costs, longer development, offer only low productivity increases at peak times, and have the general difficulty to fully automate a working terminal. On the other hand, semi-automated terminals offer the possibility for greater productivity increases at peak times, are generally understood to have the best overall productivity with less upfront costs, but require higher operating costs and are inconsistent when it comes to handling ULCVs.

While full automation gives large ports like Singapore’s the advantage of reliable, full-time operations at low operating costs, it requires long development times to fix bugs and offers only gradual productivity increases at peak times. On top of that, full automation also increases their vulnerability to cyber risks. This is due to the use of technologically advanced and networked systems.

The investment threshold to enter automation for ports is high, while not necessarily offering major increases in productivity. What automation does offer major port hubs is better predictability and consistency of container moves per hour. Additionally, automation reduces the room for human error, making operations safer. At the same time, automation reduces the environmental impact since terminals are mostly electrified, giving ports an additional competitive edge in an industry increasingly focused on sustainability.

Cyber Risks

The shipping industry and ports are seen by many insiders as underprepared for cyber threats. Even though major players in the shipping industry have recognized and acted on the risks posed by cyber threats, the majority have been slow to recognize potential business risks. Even though awareness has grown, the need for better information sharing persists. Automation further increases the exposure and impact of cyber threats for ports, highlighting the importance of data and system integrity.

The reality of cyber threats to automated terminals was demonstrated in the “NotPetya” cyber-attack in June 2017. The attack forced Maersk to interrupt operations at multiple terminals worldwide, causing logistical havoc for weeks after the attack. Overall, it cost Maersk roughly US$300 million, even though the attack was not specifically directed at the company. The “lucky hit” against one of the industry leaders showcases that even well-prepared firms can suffer financial losses due to cyber threats.

The difficulty with protecting automated terminals from cyber risks lies with their complexity. These terminals use industrial control systems that translate sensorial data and commands into mechanical actions. The network links between mechanical equipment and sensors are exposed to the same threats as data networks. The complexity is further increased by the months and years it can take to figure out and fix bugs and weaknesses in automated systems. In an automated system, different system components have to effectively work together as one, stretching the time needed to figure out and fix bugs. This involves mainly software issues that have to be fixed while also moving boxes of cargo at the terminal.

While ports have to secure themselves from a broad range of risks, cybercriminals can choose from a number of entry points. For example, external vendors, terminal operating systems, and unaware employees may be vulnerable to phishing attacks. Operational systems and data networks are not always up-to-date or properly secured, allowing criminals to gain comparatively easy access to information. To prevent the ports and shipping industry from most attacks, regular operating system updates, stronger passwords, secure satellite connections, resilience exercises, information sharing, and employee awareness campaigns should be practiced.

On top of that, modern ships bear the risk of spreading viruses onto port systems simply via Wi-Fi or other data networks. Industrial control systems are not designed with cyber risks or active network monitoring in mind. This is especially true for ships’ control systems, but can also affect the system components of ports.

Nevertheless, this is only addressing the technical side. The human factor still plays a major role in mitigating cyber risks. Personal details of ship crews can still be easily accessed, making them more vulnerable to social engineering via phishing or other techniques, unknowingly granting access to systems.

Human factors can take the form of criminals, terrorists, competitors, disgruntled employees, and more. Workers at mostly manual terminals, for example, generally do not like automation because it makes their jobs largely redundant. To reduce the chance for cyber threats stemming from or aided by disgruntled employees, ports can offer training and job guarantees to their workforce to make the transition to automation more incremental.

Port authorities, registries, and all major organizations in the shipping industry are increasingly aware of cyber threats and are responding through raising awareness or offering training courses. These are simple steps to better protect information and navigation systems on board ships. For example, BIMCO, the world’s largest international shipping association, made cyber security an important issue for the shipping industry three years ago via an awareness initiative. The association has further advocated the need for guidelines to evolve with the threats, launching the “Guidelines for Cyber Security Onboard Ships” in July 2017, which was endorsed and supported across the industry.

In addition, the Liberian ship registry started a computer-based two-hour cybersecurity training program in October 2017, offering a comprehensive overview of cybersecurity issues aboard ships. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that these courses and campaigns are enough to protect the industry. While it is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done through regulations.

Conclusion and Policy Recommendations

Since 2016, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has put forward voluntary guidelines regarding cyber risks. Only after 2021 does the IMO plan to enforce a set of binding regulations on cybersecurity. This might be too late for many companies in the industry. Shipping companies should not wait until 2021, but should begin now to implement simple measures, like using firewalls and stronger passwords, to deter criminals from trying to exploit current weaknesses.

Further, even though the IMO adopted guidelines on maritime cyber risk management into the International Safety Management Code this year, ports and the shipping industry still need to establish a stronger culture on cybersecurity.

Major shipping hubs are part of large and less resilient supply chains, which are essential for regional and international trade. These supply chains depend on a small number of key ports, which are vulnerable to shocks from other ports. To make supply chains and port hubs more resilient to cyber risks, the shipping industry as a whole will have to adjust and prepare.

Companies will have to work together and share information on previous or ongoing attacks, so that experiences and best practices can be shared directly. Unfortunately, this has been difficult to achieve due to worries about how competitors may use the shared information. Singapore has set up the Port Authorities Focal Point Correspondence Network to further the exchange of information on past and current incidents. It remains to be seen if this network has worked to encourage the sharing of information.

Ports are logistical hubs where many companies compete for business, making information sharing naturally difficult. Currently, port security is based on the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, which is heavily focused on the physical aspects of security. In order to make cyber risks a much more important issue for port security, the whole sector needs to step up and make it a priority.

Cyber risks are not just a technological matter, but require adequate awareness and planning to strengthen a port’s resilience. Training employees actively in security protocols and procedures with information systems is one way of achieving this. At the same time, ports need to engage in contingency and scenario planning to be better prepared should an attack occur. On top of all this, national bodies (e.g. institutes of standards) need to give better guidance on security testing and planning for ports, which should be supplemented by binding guidelines on reporting and information sharing mandated by global bodies like the IMO.

Philipp Martin Dingeldey is a Research Analyst with the Maritime Security Programme at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS), S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. For questions and follow-ups he can be reached at research.pmdingeldey@gmail.com.

Featured Image: Port of Singapore (XPacifica/Gettyimages)